Free Speech Watchdog Says Conspiracy Guide for MPs Is ‘Flawed’

Toby Young said the difference between a ‘conspiracy theory’ and a perfectly legitimate theory is ’sometimes nothing more than the passage of time.’
Free Speech Watchdog Says Conspiracy Guide for MPs Is ‘Flawed’
Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt leaves following the weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on Jan. 17, 2023. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Owen Evans

A free speech group has urged the leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt to withdraw her endorsement of a guide to conspiracy theories for MPs

On Friday, The Free Speech Union called published guidance instructing politicians on how to spot and combat “conspiracy theories” flawed.
Last month, Ms. Mordaunt published guidance instructing politicians on how to spot and combat “conspiracy theories” many of which are rooted in anti-Jewish racism.
Published with the charity Antisemitism Policy Trust, it highlighted what the guide characterised as their detrimental impact on “trust in democratic institutions.”


Commissioned by Ms. Mordaunt, the report was compiled by groups including Full Fact, Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Ms. Mordaunt’s Labour counterpart, Lucy Powell, said the guide was a “must-read for MPs and candidates” who had “an important role in leading their communities, speaking on the national stage with clarity and truth, and against mis- and disinformation which can harm communities and our country.”
It gave examples of eight conspiracy theories such as 15 minute cities, the Great Reset, and climate lockdowns, which it claims have “proliferated” in the UK in recent years.

May Turn Out to Be True

FSU General Secretary Toby Young said that the guide “makes no allowance for the fact that the difference between a ‘conspiracy theory’ and a perfectly legitimate theory is sometimes nothing more than the passage of time.”

“If parliamentarians have good reasons to believe that a particular point of view is false or misguided, such as evidence to the contrary, then they should set out those reasons in parliamentary debates,” he said.

He said that the FSU shares the “government’s concern about the danger posed by antisemitic conspiracy theories to Britain’s Jewish community.”

“But it is precisely because of the threat they represent that we should avoid conflating them with legitimate contributions to ongoing political debates or lumping them in with provisional explanations about why particular public policies are being rolled out–such as 15-minute cities–which may turn out to be true. If we do that, those who believe in antisemitic conspiracy theories, or have malevolent reasons for promoting them, can then point to these mistakes to undermine our efforts to debunk those theories.”

Mr. Young said that it was “interesting to note that the section of the Guide prepared by Full Fact on the conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19 avoids any mention of one of the most well-known pandemic-era ‘conspiracy theories,’ namely, the lab-leak hypothesis, that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a Chinese lab and then accidentally leaked.”

The FBI has determined that COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus, likely originated at the Wuhan lab.

“You’re talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in 2023.
“The lab-leak theory is a good example of a fringe hypothesis that has become more mainstream as time has passed and more evidence has come to light,” said Mr Young.

Erode Trust

The Conspiracy Theories: A Guide for Members of Parliament and Candidates says that conspiracy theories are particularly concerning for democracies as they “erode trust in democratic institutions, including financial institutions, the justice system, healthcare providers, in governments at every level, and in regulated media outlets, undermining the most basic foundations of democratic rule.”

It defines the term as claiming “the existence of a person or a covert and powerful group of people or an organisation with evil intent that seeks to harm or change existing orders. This group is usually presented as using proxies to help hide and carry out its plans. These proxies may be politicians, the media, financial institutions, armed forces, or any form of government agency, all working for this ‘dark force’ to satisfy its malicious intent.”

The Epoch Times contacted Ms. Mordaunt and Antisemitism Policy Trust for comment.

Owen Evans is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in civil liberties and free speech.